October 30th, 2008
Remember last week? I was a bit underwhelmed by “Crime Aid,” feeling that it felt a bit too much like the show forcing a situation compared to the previous two episodes, but in retrospect (and another viewing) I felt like I was a bit harsh: it was still a very funny episode with a nice running subplot.
However, I feel a bit safer in acknowledging that “Employee Transfer” was by far the season’s weakest episode, all cold open and no comic follow-through, where we said goodbye to our favourite new employee of Dunder-Mifflin while, quite honestly, not doing much else in the process. While another decent subplot, Andy and Dwight battling it out over Angela through Beets and Cornell, was at least bringing some humour, it felt derivative of what we’ve seen the show do before.
This is not to say that Employee Transfer was a bad episode, but rather that it kind of takes the wind out of the show’s sails: we’re losing the season’s MVP, we have very little sense of the show’s overall direction, and it was an episode that never quite gathered a cohesive comic vision.
In short, I think I’ve got it right this time: this is the weakest episode of what has been an otherwise fantastic opening to the season.
Saying goodbye to Holly Flax isn’t fair, and to be honest it kind of sucked all the fun out of this episode. It was a sad inevitability: Amy Ryan is an Oscar-nominated actress, blah blah blah, we knew that she wasn’t going to be around forever. However, this conclusion is problematic in the short term even if I fully understand its long term purpose: while it resulted in a heartbreaking road trip that eventually spiralled into tears and a tragic breakup, it does leave the door open for Holly’s return at some point in the future. The show has not chosen, as it did with Jan or Carol, to have Michael ruin the relationship or to have the other half of the relationship become crazy (a decision that, while it’s resulted in some great comedy for Melora Hardin, still kind of bugs me). Instead, if we’re looking for a happy ending for Michael (when NBC is ever in a position where they don’t have to rely on the show and it can have a graceful exit), they have it: Holly Flax is still out there, and still in love with Michael Scott.
The truck ride had its highlights: I love the Tom Cochrane sing-along, I love having Darryl there for comic relief, and I don’t think any line in the episode came close to topping “Did Darryl touch you?” But, whether it was knowing that this was the last we’d be seeing of the character or just the decision to have the entire thing play out in a single episode, something just felt off about it. When Michael broke down in the car crying, begging her to stay together so that he wouldn’t weakly go back to Jan, there was nothing comic about it: it was pure tragedy, and I honestly feel awful for Michael in this situation. I won’t argue this is a bad thing: it’s actually quite important to the audience’s empathy with the character.
The issue was that the rest of the episode didn’t really balance this out very well, in particular the extremely oddly executed Jim and Pam storyline. While we’ve been clamboring for Jim and Pam to be in the same location ever since their rest stop proposal, what we got was what it looked like: Jim’s two asshole brothers spending an entire luncheon questioning the validity of Pam’s career choice, cleverly masquerading their douchebaggery as a practical joke on their little brother. I’m not sure that we’ve seen two characters enter into this world that have been this one-dimensionally frustrating, and for this to be our reintroduction to Jim and Pam as a couple seems a bit of an odd choice.
I guess I don’t really see what the scenes accomplished: yes, I know this is ostensibly a sitcom, but it feels with Jim and Pam that the writers have them on a set path, and all this one seemed to do was serve as another disruptive influence on their relationship. The more these add up, the more frustrated I’m going to become: I don’t think the show is able to break these two up at this point without entering too far into melodrama, which is why the entire scene’s lack of resolution (all we get is Jim and Pam agreeing that his brothers were being stupid) feels like an odd choice to insert into this episode. I’m not suggesting that these roadblocks or scenes aren’t possible, but combined with the tragic end of Michael and Holly’s relationship it was a bit of a downer.
The episode’s attempt to be lighter was, admittedly, charming: Dwight applying to Cornell and throwing it in Andy’s face out of spite for his upcoming nuptials with Angela. These storylines are always fun, because it’s totally in character for Dwight despite his objections: if Jim did this to him, for example, he would have been furious, but he’s so wonderfully self-centered that he finds it totally justified. The escalation feels about right in the episode, but it doesn’t feel particularly fresh: even the choice to end the episode with Andy trying to one-up Dwight at his own game was stolen directly from Jim/Dwight’s costume-off last season. It’s not a bad formula, but this was an episode that needed an antidote that really struck home.
And in a way it had one: the cold open, featuring three different Jokers (I preferred Creed’s), Kelly’s unwalkable shoes, and Pam’s awesome Charlie Chaplin outfit at the costumeless Corporate office, felt like the kind of comic relief that could give the episode a bit more balance. Instead, it was like a shining moment of humour that made way for an episode that just left me feeling down. I prefer a dour episode of the show to the uneven mess that was the start of the fourth season, but this is still an odd note to leave us on: Darryl and Michael singing the blues may have been fun, but it does little to rest my soul that the world of The Office looks darker than ever before.
Come back soon, Amy Ryan – come back soon.
- I think what I found most sad about the episode was our final talking head with Amy Ryan, a heartbreaking and hilarious run of their conversation. The ease with which she told her choice to jinx Michael, and how it ended up biting her in the ass as they put off the conversation due to the imposed silence, was exactly the kind of thing that Ryan handled so deftly, and humanized Holly so quickly. Seriously, Television Academy: I will hunt you down if you snub Amy Ryan this year.
- I found it kind of strange that Angela didn’t get a single talking head throughout the Dwight and Andy showdown: as it continued to escalate, you’d think that she’d at least have something to say…although perhaps her looks of disgust and embarrassment said it all?